[Book] China: From Permanent Revolution to Counter-Revolution

From the Jiangxi “Soviet” to Yenan

7.1 Introduction

This chapter describes the so-called peasant Soviets created by the CCP as it retreated from the cities. The Stalinist nature of the CCP dominated the character of these Soviets from their start. The political and organisational structures supposedly for the self-rule of the peasants by the peasants were, in fact, forced on the local populations by a Communist Party which was, in effect, an invading and occupying force, although a benign one. These so-called Soviets were set up in the most backward and isolated areas and had little or no basis in the experiences of the peasants involved.[1]

At all times the needs of the Red Army and the CCP overrode the wishes of the indigenous peasants and ultimately the Red Army would march out leaving them to the tender mercies of Chiang Kai-shek. Nevertheless, the Soviets did become popular with the middle and poor peasants and even amongst many rich peasants.

The KMT bandit extermination campaigns are presented in so far as they reflected the balance of power in China between Chiang Kai-shek and the CCP, forced the Communists to quit their major base in Jiangxi, and commence the Long March. The destruction of the Jiangxi ‘Soviet Republic’ and the flight of the Communists was both a military and political defeat for the CCP. It was the end of the first attempt to establish a revolutionary power based exclusively upon peasant rebellion. However, the idea that Soviet power could be transported in the baggage train of the Red Army from Jiangxi to Yenan was totally bureaucratic and one further step in dissolving the socialist revolution into peasant revolt.

Map of China – showing major Soviet areas remaining after the 4th<br/>“bandit extermination campaign”, at start of Long March (1934-35)Map of China – showing major Soviet areas remaining after the 4th “bandit extermination campaign”, at start of Long March (1934-35). NOTE: Areas of the Soviets are not to scale

The CCP, in true Stalinist manner, has re-written its history to iron out the wrinkles, give it linearity and continuity, and place an omniscient Mao in the lead role. As the bureaucracy became more established as an independent factor and gathered to itself more power over the organisation, it increasingly required its own ‘pope’ to resolve disputes that arose from the inevitable conflict of interest between individuals and groups within the bureaucracy. The very nature of bureaucracy means it cannot submit such disputes to the democratic process of discussion and action by the masses without endangering its own existence.

The official history presents Mao taking the helm at the Tsunyi conference (15-17 January 1935, soon after the start of the Long March) at which the brilliance of his military strategy won the day, and after which he was always right and the undisputed leader of the CCP, ousting the 28 Bolsheviks who had led the Party almost to extinction. This re-writing began in 1945 when Mao Zedong presented the Resolution on Some Questions in the History of Our Party to the CC. This document re-wrote Party history to present the defeats of the CCP as due to the opportunism of Chen Duxiu, and the left adventurism of Ch’u Ch’iu-pai, Li Lisan, and Wang Ming.[2] Nowhere does Mao rebuke the architect of CCP policies, Joseph Stalin, because Mao accepted Socialism in One Country, the theory of stages, the bloc of four classes, and the bureaucratic structure that allowed Stalin to force his strategies onto the CCP.

At the end of the Long March, the Communists would arrive in Shensi province, an area which many considered to be outside China proper. The final stages of the Long March coincided with the 7th World Congress of the CI and the launch of the Popular Front strategy. This meant an about turn for the CCP, leaving ultra-leftism behind and returning to class collaborationist policies. The CCP’s base area would be declared a special administrative region of the KMT and not a Soviet, and its social policies would be limited accordingly.

7.2 Soviets and Land Reform

The move to peasant Soviets was a public admission that by the end of 1930 the CCP’s adventurist course had converted it into an overwhelmingly peasant party with few roots in, and little or no influence among, the urban workers. These Soviets could exist only in areas where the central state authority was virtually non-existent, far removed from any military centre, isolated with few roads, no railways, and of little interest to the National government.

These Soviets were formed, at least initially, by the remnants of Communist military units, local CCP members, impoverished peasants who had fled their debts, mutinous NRA units and peasant organisers known to the secret police and on their death list. They were islands in the sea of Nationalist China and, of necessity, had to be as self-sufficient as possible. However, given the nature of China in the late 1920s and 1930s they could be large. Braun claims that the Jiangxi Soviet was a contiguous area which varied between 40,000 and 60,000 square km (15,000 to 20,000 square miles) with a population of up to four million peasants, significantly greater than that of Albania (in total throughout China up to 10 million people were in Soviets).[3]

The Communist International had published considerable material on the “invincible” Soviet revolution that was supposed to have been advancing across the whole of China as a result of Stalin’s policies.[4] It continued to present the events in China in this light. Communists outside the highest levels of the Comintern were denied accurate information on what was actually happening in China. The Communist International needed victories to continue to boost Stalin, so the Soviets in China – where it was almost impossible to confirm or contradict reports – were hailed as a great success. This means that the public record was overly positive about the achievements of, for example, the Jiangxi Soviet. The myth of glorious Soviets glamourised the reality and prettified those associated with them – particularly Mao Zedong.

The first Chinese Revolution of 1925-7 had been a genuine proletarian revolution but the isolated and backward areas in which Soviets would be formed were the traditional hunting grounds of bandits. In Jiangxi, attempts were made to incorporate many thousands of armed bandits into the revolutionary ranks. However, bandit gangs were not Robin Hood-like figures standing in opposition to the local power structure; more often the gangs were tied to the local landlords and judiciary who accepted bribes to turn a blind eye and even fenced the stolen goods.[5] Few of the gangs made the transition from bandits to Communists.

Thus, when Mao arrived in Jiangxi in 1929 and began concentrating local power into his own hands, he had to fight on three fronts: physically battling reactionary forces and local bandits, fending off the centralising efforts of national Party leaders in Shanghai, and overcoming the resistance of local CP leaders to his taking over their base area.[6] By the time of the founding of the Jiangxi Soviet, Zhu De and Mao Zedong were the leaders of probably the most powerful armed force in the Chinese Communist movement (Zhu was commander and Mao was political commissar), and articles praising them and their actions were appearing in the journals of the Communist International.[7]

The decision to form Soviets was taken while the Party was passing through its Third Period phase and that determined initial policies implemented within the Soviets. For example, enforced land confiscation and its re-distribution which greatly appealed to the poorest peasants.[8] Generally, the judicial and social measures taken were hugely progressive but it must be remembered that the most basic requirement for a Soviet was missing from their very inception; there was no real democracy. The Soviets were the artificial, bureaucratic creations of the CCP, and in all important matters decisions were determined in advance by the Party. With the Soviet Union as their example, this was seen as a quite natural and correct way of proceeding.

Everybody over the age of 16 was supposed to participate but there was neither experience nor understanding of the processes of democratic decision-making and administration was constantly hampered by the almost universal illiteracy of all but the rich peasants and landlords. The Soviet areas were not fertile and the peasants had a hard time feeding themselves so there was considerable pressure to maximise food production to feed the occupying Red Army and the high work load on most peasants left them too tired to participate in lengthy communal meetings.[9]

Nevertheless, the Jiangxi Soviet was an important testing ground for administrative structures and methods of governance, tax collecting, child care, judiciary, etc., which would serve as the foundations for later Soviet governments.

During the 1926-27 peasant upsurge, the real authority in much of the countryside resided with the peasant associations which maintained peace and order, settling disputes between peasants. In Hunan Province “people’s justice” made its appearance when the peasant associations adopted a series of measures to enforce land redistribution, reduce interest rates, abolish exorbitant levies, advance women’s rights, prohibit gambling and opium-smoking and eradicate corrupt officials and landlords.[10]

In the initial stages of the Soviets, the remnants of these peasant associations, many containing CCP cadres, provided important experience, and a number of radical measures were taken that gradually won for the Soviets the support of the great majority of the peasants. Land deeds were destroyed, taxes on poor peasants abolished, official corruption, foot-binding, child slavery and infanticide were made illegal. Much good work was done in bringing the peasant masses into action and the measures taken formed a natural basis for the legal codes introduced by the CCP. It was made plain that people’s justice was to be administered from a class viewpoint. Account had to be taken of the class of the offenders and their accomplices; counter-revolutionary elements with capitalist backgrounds, landlords and rich peasants were to be punished severely (including death), while all those from the ranks of workers, peasants and the toiling masses were to be treated relatively leniently.[11]

For fifteen hundred years, ever since the middle of the Tang Dynasty, peasant uprisings had been characterised by the determination of the insurgents to fight the landlords for the land.[12] Thus when, for example, in November 1927 the first Soviet was formed (the Hailufeng Soviet) under pressure from the peasant associations, particularly the poor and landless peasants, it immediately committed itself to the policy of land seizure. As many as 1,800 landlords were executed within a few months and the seized land distributed at village meetings.

The earliest land law promulgated by the Jiangxi soviet government was the Land Law of December 1928, prior to Mao’s arrival. This called for the seizure of all land and stated “all men and women, old and young, shall be entitled to equal redistribution” provided they were able-bodied and could work the land. An important element was a move towards communalisation, land ownership was turned over to the local Soviet government.[13] Later Mao would call these actions “left extremism.”[14]

However, the seizure and redistribution of the land was not welcomed by all peasants. Not only landlords and rich peasants lost land, some of the better-off middle peasants had also suffered and were worse off. After his arrival, Mao had the Land Law modified to give greater protection to rich and middle peasants, citing the Political Resolution adopted at the 6th Congress of the Party of not forcing the struggle against the rich peasants because to do so “would confuse the fundamental contradiction between the peasant and landlord class.”[15]

This fitted well with the need to feed the Soviet population, particularly the Red Army troops. Re-division of the land for the benefit of the poor peasants was effectively abandoned in order not to unsettle crop production, and the land of rich peasants was often left intact. By the end of 1931, confiscation of land without compensation was limited to public land, and the lands of the gentry, militarists and big private landowners. The lands seized were to be distributed equally irrespective of sex, but now the tenant, not the Soviet, was confirmed as owner of the land previously rented. Such a policy meant there was little land available to allocate to the semi-proletarian agricultural labourers and village craftsmen.[16]

Initially, the wives and children of the landlords were allocated land as individuals, but as the family remained the unit of production and because the richer peasants tended to have larger families, they benefited relative to the poor peasants. It was also true that the landlord’s wives shared the land they were allocated with their husbands so this aspect of re-allocation was soon curtailed and landlords’ wives, sons, daughters and daughters-in-law were formally denied any share of the seized lands.[17]

However, in many places the rich peasants adopted a radical face, speaking loudly about non-payment of rent and taxes, and in this way – with their experience of public speaking – became the village spokespersons. With their better education and ability to write they often became the office personnel in the very organs created to execute the land reforms and were often able to direct their efforts in ways that preserved much of their former positions, frequently acquiring the best land for themselves and retaining their farming implements and draft animals. This process was greatly helped by the composition of the Party in Jiangxi in early 1931, “from first to last intellectuals, and of these the children of rich peasants and landlords constitute an important component.”[18]

Isolated in purely rural and economically backward pockets, the Communists gradually became integrated into the rural hierarchy in the districts under Red Army control. Despite all its pious resolutions and exhortations to the contrary, the CCP had to lean upon the merchants whose contact with the external market was indispensable to the maintenance of even a minimal existence in the Soviet areas. In this way, the CCP leaders did largely succeed in keeping the base area economies functioning.[19]

Propaganda was made against the rich peasants but day-to-day the CCP leadership surrendered to their economic interests because they were the major producers of surplus food. Some rich peasants did lose land but retained as much land as they and their family could productively farm, and because they were allowed to keep their implements they were allocated relatively more land per person than the poor or middle peasants.

From 1931 the pattern of land reform, supported by rent and interest rate reductions and debt cancellation, was settled and remained in place in Communist-controlled areas until after 1945. Notwithstanding the Land Law of the Soviet Republic of November 1931 these reforms tended in practice to favour the middle peasants. These held some land to begin with, were often allocated additional land and, very importantly, were freed from debt.[20] It was the agricultural labourers who benefited least.[21] Despite its limitations, the policy was hugely popular with the vast mass of peasants.

This approach was due to the economic realities of rural life. The food surplus needed to feed the Red Army could not be disrupted so the CCP had to tread carefully around the most productive peasants (the rich and middle peasants). Collaboration with the merchants had to be maintained because anything manufactured had to be imported, from salt to kerosene, and only the merchants supplied these. The goal of the CCP was a democratic dictatorship (not a proletarian revolution) and for this to be achieved the rich peasants and the merchants had to be kept on-side. Already in western Fukian by 1930, the CCP had compromised with local merchants to resolve difficulties with the import and export of supplies. The merchants were exempted from taxation while the peasants paid a 15% land tax. Price rises by the merchant were ignored and sometimes the economic struggles of shop employees and workers were restrained.

Even after the experience of Wuhan, the theory of the democratic dictatorship which had been so thoroughly tested in 1925-1927 remained the CCP’s major ideological weapon. In 1925-7 this perspective had led them to dependence on the bourgeoisie with disastrous results. Now it provided justification for leading a purely peasant movement, relying, as before, on class interests which were separate from those of the proletariat.

To the peasantry with its internal divisions and conflicting interests, the Communist Party claimed that it brought proletarian leadership. It based its claims on the abstract proposition that because the Communist Party was, by definition, the ‘Party of the proletariat’ its presence guaranteed working-class hegemony in the peasant revolt. It strengthened this illusion by importing a trickle of workers from the cities and giving them positions in the Red Army and governmental committees that had been established. The net effect of its policies was to deprive the workers in the cities of their most advanced representatives. Removed from their factories, working within a Stalinised Party and in an overwhelmingly peasant milieu, these workers soon succumbed to petty-bourgeois ways of thinking and working. If KMT terror did not cut militants off from the labour movement, the CCP did.

7.3 Women’s Liberation and the Jiangxi Soviet

In 1928, the 6th CCP Congress resolution on the Peasant Movement accepted that failure to win over the women in the villages would result in the failure of the agrarian revolution. Communist progress was everywhere affected by its attitude to women, by their social status, by their relationship to men and by their symbol as an object of property.

The Jiangxi Soviet set up a Women’s Department with specific responsibility to care for the interests of women. This progressive step was reflected in the many reforms undertaken in the Jiangxi Soviet to improve the position of women. Often these measures were the results of personal efforts by Mao Zedong, “fervent fighter for the liberty of love since the era of the May Fourth Movement.”[22] The conservatism he had to struggle against within the Party can be seen in the editing of Mao’s Collected Works. In the original version of his Report on an Investigation into the Peasant Movement in Hunan, Mao made the point: “From the sexual point of view, the poor peasants dispose of a fair amount of liberty. In the villages, triangular and multi-lateral relationships are almost universal among poor peasants.” This was cut out of the official version.[23]

However, the life of peasant women was such that any measure enacted by the CCP meant little or nothing while they were confined to the home and forbidden to speak to any male other than a relative. The CCP established Women’s Associations (WA) which attempted to meet and co-ordinate women in the villages. The first and immediate concern of these associations was to put a stop to the almost universal habit of wife beating – both by husbands and by mothers-in-law – because any woman who attended an association meeting would receive a thrashing when she got home.

The organisers found a practical solution that worked wonders. A violent husband was selected; he would be stopped in public by a group of association members and asked to mend his ways. Invariably the man’s reaction was arrogant disbelief that such a thing could be happening and his reaction would arouse a furious protest from the women surrounding him. Within moments he would be knocked to the ground and given his very own drubbing which did not stop until he promised to cease beating his wife. Soon a visit from a WA representative was enough to bring most erring husbands into line. However, Hinton reports that the first secretary of the WA in Long Bow village was made to resign because her husband, a CCP cadre, demanded she spend more time at home.[24]

In August 1930, the Soviet government of Jiangxi issued a decree that said simply: “Let those men who do not have wives be free to find themselves wives as rapidly as possible, and let those women who do not have husbands be free to find themselves husbands as rapidly as possible.” To the delight of both sexes the CCP, at a stroke, had removed the exorbitant cost of getting married. Immediately, there was a frenzy of activity throughout the entire Soviet zone; within two months nearly all the middle, poor peasants and artisans who had not previously taken wives had done so. As for labourers, the proportion of those married leapt from about 1% to nearly 50%.

The Regulations on Marriage enacted by the Chinese Soviet Republic was a good example of the rapid transformation of a feudal-patriarchal matrimonial system based on a superstitious belief in predestination. Isaac Deutscher looked at this as an application of the Law of Combined and Uneven Development; China, possibly the most archaic of nations, avidly assimilated the latest doctrines and translated them into action before more industrially advanced countries.[25] The Regulations were preceded by a preamble which outlined what could be called the three principles of marriage: (1) In the Soviet areas, the economic independence of men and women being assured, marriage must be concluded according to the principle of free choice. (2) Attention must be paid to the protection of children. (3) The suffering of women under feudalism which included deliberately subjecting them to physical abuse such as having their feet bound, meant that they had not yet succeeded in acquiring complete economic independence. Thus, in the matter of divorce, women’s interests must be protected.

Measured against traditional Chinese morality, these principles were revolutionary. But an even greater innovation is found in the Regulations concerning divorce. There are only two clauses: (1) Divorce is granted if both parties desire it, but it is equally granted when only one of the two parties insists. (This would later be curtailed so that the wives of serving soldiers could obtain a divorce only with the consent of their husbands.) and (2) All divorces must be registered with the authorities of the Soviet zone. There is absolutely no question of having to obtain previous authorisation for marriage or divorce from the local CCP or the local Soviet.

The 1931 Constitution of the Jiangxi Soviet Republic expressly stated that one purpose of the government was “to guarantee the thorough emancipation of women.” During the Jiangxi period the Party formally enacted the Marriage Laws described above but Johnson claims that there was stiff opposition from many local cadres and only when the Party leaders from Shanghai arrived was there any effective attempt to implement the Law. Even then, cadre behaviour was not uniform and some abused their position: in the north zone the local Party men insisted that marriages had to have the prior approval of Party or the local Soviet, and in certain counties women were forbidden to ask for divorce.[26] Official CCP policies regarding women were undoubtedly immensely progressive but their implementation depended on the balance of forces locally and so was neither uniform nor consistent. Thus, there were ongoing simmering differences between Party needs, the conservatism of the male peasants (particularly the richer male peasants), and the drive for greater liberation by peasant women and young CCP cadres.

In practice, a peasant-based strategy made the promotion of women’s rights difficult because the many male peasants who felt their patriarchal rights threatened, vigorously resisted such policies, fearing the loss of their ‘property’. Their conservatism and their material interests made it very difficult for them to tolerate free-choice marriage, divorce, female equality, and women’s roles outside the home. The CCP backed off from implementation of much of the Marriage Law in the face of this male hostility because it needed the support of these people since they produced most of the food for the Red Army and Party officials.[27]

The CCP land reform heroically granted women important property and economic rights for the first time. But in a peasant economy with traditions going back a thousand years and with the traditional family structure largely intact, if a parcel of land was to be redistributed and a woman was to receive a share, the deeds for her share would be ceremonially handed to the (male) head of the household, accepting that the woman’s land de facto belonged to her husband.

Within the CCP a quota system was established in response to the instruction that, “every local party should do its best to reach the goal set up by the Central Committee which requires that women comrades in the movement should occupy one-third to two-thirds of the party positions”, unfortunately even the lower target was rarely met.

Nevertheless, the continual drive to meet the manpower needs of the Red Army meant a shortage of men to work the land and women stepped into the breach. Women who did not have bound feet came out of the home, worked on the land and performed tasks that had previously been for men only. True, the women were expected to surrender these newly-gained positions when the men returned but they demonstrated abilities that culture and tradition said they could not possess.

The move to the countryside and the setting up of peasant Soviets had serious long-term adverse effects on Party ideology, policies, and practices. Despite its initial good efforts, in the end the Jiangxi period imposed a move away from commitment to gender equality. Many Party members felt that in the countryside women’s participation in the revolution was marginalised and that their liberation was restricted in order not to impinge adversely on other Party policies.[28] By the time the Party left Jiangxi in 1934, in conflicts between issues concerning women’s rights and the demands of male peasants, the Party was openly supporting the latter.[29]

Cheng analysed the dynamic of land reform in the Jiangxi Soviet and concluded:

“despite the efforts … of the CCP, the household-based economy and the remnants of patriarchal ideology combined to allow husbands and fathers to manipulate women both to improve their own situations and to subvert the Party’s stated goal to transform the basis of women’s class status. … It seems clear that women cannot have an independent class status within a household-based economy under patriarchy.”[30]

The CCP was, of course, a very long way from challenging patriarchy.

7.4 The Futian Incident

By the time he arrived in Jiangxi, Mao had been singled out for public praise and advancement by the ECCI and Pavel Mif. In its letter of October 1929, the ECCI called on the CCP to “ … strengthen and expand guerrilla warfare, especially …. where Mao Zedong (has) been active. We must fight firmly against the tendency in the party to overlook the revolutionary significance of the peasant struggle (particularly guerrilla warfare), emphasise the importance of military work, … and build up the soviet base areas in the places where the peasant revolutionary struggle is active and well developed.”[31]

Mao had taken care that his opposition to the Li Lisan Line was always within the limits of what was acceptable, but the “Mao machine” is reported to have eliminated a “long list” of local leaders as part of his take-over of the Jiangxi Soviet. Eventually, Mao was able to impose his side-kick and manager of his machine (Tseng Shan) as Chair, and other members of his entourage (including his two brothers Mao Zetan and Mao Zemin) as leaders of the Soviet.[32,33]

It was here that Mao demonstrated definitively that the Jiangxi Soviet was not a Soviet in any meaningful sense. He determined that it was quite acceptable to use physical violence against Soviet members when his personal interests were at stake. Mao introduced the Stalinist concept only recently adopted in the Soviet Union, that loyal Party members who honestly differed in their opinions could be ‘objectively counter-revolutionary’ and be imprisoned or executed.[34]

While Mao was at Changsha (July-August 1930) those previously ousted by Mao, encouraged by his absence, formed an anti-Mao group, rallied support and removed his appointees from office. There are no claims that they did this by violent means. This anti-Mao group showed there were political differences when they proposed a more radical land policy. They raised the slogans: “Oppose the practice of dividing land on the basis of the possession of tools and labour power!” “Oppose the rich peasants!”, “Divide the land equally!”, “Oppose the capture of the government by landlords and rich peasants!”. The basis of the anti-Mao forces was for land allocation on the more egalitarian basis of the number of persons in a family.[35]

It was this that led to the infamous Futian incident. In the words of Mao, “… the fate of the revolution depended on the outcome of this struggle” (i.e. his own prestige and position).[36] On his return from Changsha (with the army) Mao set about removing his opponents. First he claimed they were following the Li Lisan Line which allowed him to appear as supporting the new Wang Ming leadership while in fact strengthening his own position. On 7 December 1930, Mao had some seventy members of the Jiangxi Soviet arrested. The Twentieth Corps of the Red Army was so incensed by this mass arrest that some four hundred men attacked Futian prison and liberated more than twenty of the accused. During this attack a number of Mao’s supporters were killed.[37]

Mao now falsely accused his opponents of being members of a secret nationalist organisation, the Anti-Bolshevik League (ABL) and began purging them using the methods of the Stalinist witch hunt vigorously and extensively.

Active oppositionists were arrested and “the most merciless torture” authorised to obtain confessions and the names of others, who were tortured in their turn, and so on. “The number of killings rose steeply, as each confession produced a new clutch of victims, and each victim a new confession.” The tortured confessed to all kinds of wild schemes not least of which was that they were planning an uprising against the CCP. It is claimed that in the First Front Army more than 2,000 were summarily shot.[38] Next Mao turned his attention to the Jiangxi Communist Party. The details of this witch hunt make horrific reading and are as bad as anything done in Soviet Russia – however, unlike in Russia, the torture was often carried out in public.[39] The revolt was finally quelled to Mao’s satisfaction.

Depending on whose version is accepted, the total number executed in this purge – which was aimed at suppressing the egalitarians and the left in the Party – ranges up to 10,000. In principle Mao was repeating what the 28 Bolsheviks had done in Moscow, but on a larger scale, more ferociously and with fewer constraints.[40] At the Plenum of the CC in January 1931 the execution of the Futian rebels was explained as a move against Li Lisan supporters with explicit parallels being made to the anti-Li Lisan measures being taken in Shanghai.[41]

An investigation by the Central Committee (led by Zhou Enlai) which was completed by mid-1931 did not condemn the witch hunt, the methods used, nor the deaths which resulted. It did contain the mild rebuke that too many ABL suspects had been summarily executed – they should have been ‘interrogated’ first.[42] By such means the local leadership of all three Soviets in Jiangxi was brought under much tighter central control with those in charge owing their immediate loyalties to Mao.

7.5 The KMT Bandit Extermination Campaigns

Chiang and the KMT classified the Communists as bandits, so the campaigns to destroy them and their bases were known as bandit extermination campaigns. At the start of these campaigns multiple Soviets and their corresponding Red Armies existed, of which Jiangxi was the most significant. Five campaigns later it would be claimed that only one Soviet stronghold remained, in the wilds of Shensi in northern China.[43] This annihilation, as much as anything else, enabled Mao to climb to the top of the CCP.

In November 1930, the KMT, in response to the capture of Changsha the previous July, launched the first of five bandit extermination campaigns. At Jiangxi this was beaten back relatively easily using tactics developed by Zhu De and Mao, of retreating to lure nationalist forces deep into the Red area and striking when they were exhausted and isolated. When these very tactics would be used by others, Mao would condemn them as “flight before the enemy”, emphasising their inherent weakness of surrendering the peasants to the tender mercies of NRA troops.[44]

Zhu’s and Mao’s tactics were greatly helped by intelligence information provided by Russian intelligence who had more than a hundred moles in the KMT, some in very senior positions, and a smaller but very effective network of agents at the top of the KMT security services recruited by Zhou Enlai.[45] The Russians had broken the cypher codes used for the transmissions from the KMT General Staff to operational units which allowed details of troop movements on the ground to be fed to Mao. All this information helped the Red Army to avoid superior Nationalist forces and, when it chose to engage, to do so with numerical superiority. It would take Chiang Kai-shek five extermination campaigns before he developed a strategy and tactics which offset these intelligence advantages.

However, the radio set in Jiangxi was not sufficiently powerful to transmit directly to Russia and messages had to be sent to Shanghai and forwarded to Moscow and vice versa. The office also acted as a centre for distribution of ECCI and CC instructions and Party information, thus giving Wang Ming a high degree of control and authority over the Red Army.

In early and late 1931, the second and third extermination campaigns were beaten back and Mao’s success in leading the fight against the KMT forces gained him enormous prestige in the Red Army and in the Party. His prestige was now sufficient to make him a natural contender for the leadership and protect him from accusations of brutality against those who opposed him.[46]

In September 1931, the Japanese invaded Manchuria and established a puppet regime. The Japanese invasion of Manchuria caused Chiang Kai-shek to momentarily digress from the encirclement campaigns and this allowed the Red Army to re-form. More scared of the masses than the invaders, the KMT regime did not dare mobilise for a popular war of self-defence. Instead it took the course of ‘non-resistance’, conceding ground and hoping Japan would be content with Manchuria, or, at most, with Manchuria and North China.

In response, the Party decided to re-designate the Soviet areas as a state power without waiting for the capture of a major city. On 7 November 1931 (the anniversary of the Russian Revolution), the small town of Juichin – badly damaged by bombing raids – was designated the Soviet capital and hosted the First All-China Conference of Soviets to formally declare a Provisional Central Government of the Chinese Soviet Republic – officially designated “a democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry” despite there being no democracy nor any proletariat.[47]

To maintain its control, Moscow insisted that its chosen people be the leadership of the Chinese Soviet Republic so the CC of the CCP, many in their absence, were elected en masse onto the Central Executive Committee of the new government. This was a contradictory situation, the CC formally, had Soviet authority in its hands but now CC members sat with previously obscure Party members who held the real power, had their own local loyalties, and no interest in accepting control from arrogant, ill-informed booksellers from Shanghai. With the external pressure of the NRA forcing them together, confrontation between the different groups would be postponed until the CCP and Red Armies fled Jiangxi to escape extermination.

A Central Government gave a uniform structure to the Communist controlled areas. It approved a number of radical laws already in operation; Land (1931), Labour (1931), Marriage Regulations (1931), and enacted new laws such as the Regulations for Punishing Counter-revolutionaries (1934). It also formally introduced a system of people’s courts to administer these laws.[48]

The laws on Labour were the first to be breached in the interest of the bloc of four classes. Agricultural labourers and other rural workers working singly or in twos or threes, were scattered over the land and occupied a subsidiary position in the peasant economy. They lived by selling their labour power for wages and in that sense were proletarians. But unlike factory workers, they played no independent role in production and so tended to be part of the general petty-bourgeois mass of the peasantry. The capitalist cannot exist without the factory worker, but the peasant can get along without a hired hand. Operating on the slimmest of margins, the peasant resisted when his labourers demanded shorter hours or an increase in wages, usually by firing them. Similarly, in the shops and small enterprises, the merchants countered employees’ demands by the simple threat to close down altogether. This would have meant slow suffocation of trade and the merchants knew they held the whip hand.

Thus it was, that the admirable Labour law adopted by the newly established Provisional Soviet Government was never enforced and was quietly abandoned. Its limits on working hours, its requirements for improved working conditions and wages were widely publicised by the Comintern for propaganda purposes but never enacted in the face of merchant-peasant opposition. Lo Fu (Chang Wen-t’ien, one of the 28 Bolsheviks) writing in the Party journal Struggle in June 1933 would explain that the workers must understand that while they were the “masters of the state” they had to consent to remain the “exploited class” and refrain from making “excessive demands” or conducting strikes whose only effect was “to wreck the worker-peasant alliance.”[49] This was the real essence of the democratic dictatorship within the Soviet areas. The Party called upon the peasant poor, the rural workers, the artisans, and handicraftsmen to sacrifice their own interests in order not to alienate the rich peasants and the merchants.

Across China at this time, in response to Japanese actions there was a spontaneous boycott of Japanese goods and a great wave of student unrest in opposition to appeasement. This began in Shanghai (November-December 1931) and soon spread to all the major cities of China. Japan responded by attacking and capturing Shanghai in January 1932. Rather than retaliate, the KMT actively suppressed the boycott and protest campaigns, and subsequently crushed every manifestation of an independent anti-Japanese movement.

The huge resentment against Japanese imperialism grew as the KMT concluded a succession of deals with Japan. But this popular feeling had no organised expression not least because the CCP failed to propose an effective programme.[50] The isolation and impotence of the CCP can be seen from the near zero response it got in working class areas to its ultra-left proposals for the defeat of the Japanese invasion: the immediate setting up of Soviets, and for workers to leave the urban centres to join the Red Army. The CCP could not rally the masses against Japanese imperialism because it had no programme that voiced their aspirations, but by this time neither did it have the forces to take the slogans into the proletariat.

The mass boycott of Japanese goods temporarily made the wheels of Chinese factories turn faster which stimulated greater self-confidence amongst the workers. Strikes began to take place, but most workers had no organisation and those that did were in the yellow unions. The strikers were soon clubbed into submission.[51] It was just such circumstances where the great mass of the Chinese people were sincerely demanding opposition to the Japanese attacks that the political call for a Constituent Assembly (supported, of course, by slogans for freedom of association, freedom of speech and assembly, an end to usurious loans and land to the peasant) would have given the CCP a good chance of regaining leadership of the proletariat.

However, Moscow was seriously worried about Japan’s advances and in response to the invasion of Manchuria, the ECCI called for China to launch a national revolutionary war against the Japanese imperialists. Trapped within the ultra-left policies of the Third Period, the leadership of the CCP interpreted this to mean the CCP should launch a military programme and on 9 January 1932 passed the resolution; Winning an Initial Revolutionary Success in One or More Provinces.[52] In no significant aspect was this different from the Li Lisan Line, except that Ganzhou in southern Jiangxi stood in for Wuhan. The results were even worse. Ganzhou was poorly defended and a numerically much stronger Red Army was soundly beaten. Mao was an adept military commander and had assessed that the attack would be a failure. His lack of enthusiasm was noted and he was severely criticised by the CC.

This attack was taken by Chiang as confirmation that the Communists were a greater menace to Chinese capitalism than the Japanese invasion. Under the slogan “First internal pacification, then external resistance” he organised the fourth extermination campaign which began in the summer of 1932 and succeeding in destroying the E-Yu-Wan Soviet and forcing the Fourth Front Army to leave and flee to safety in north Szechuan. The Soviet at Xiang-Exi was destroyed and the Third Front Army just survived, reduced to less than 3,000 soldiers it barely existed as a disciplined force until it re-united with the Sixth Army corps in October 1934.[53]

The 12th Plenum of the ECCI (September 1932) again called for strengthening the Red Army and the Soviets; it also called for linking of the Soviet government with the urban masses through the tactic of the so-called “United Front From Below” – this ultra-left strategy was the continuation of the very one that had separated the CCP from the urban proletariat in the first place (and in Germany was a major factor in the Nazi victory).[54] As Stalin’s grip on the world Communist movement tightened, Po Ku followed Moscow’s dictat ever more closely without reference to the realities of China. Thus, his politics became increasingly unaccountable which inevitably meant the Party was plagued by factionalism with the leaders using the methods learned in Moscow to crush criticism.[55] The new leaders depended solely upon Stalin and the ECCI for their positions in the Party whereas Mao had a solid and extensive base within the Jiangxi Soviet; hence, he was both feared and mistrusted by Wang Ming.

As the NRA advanced, the party leaders discussed the how best the Jiangxi Soviet could defend itself. Official policy was to defend the peasants in the Jiangxi Soviet against the incursions of Chiang’s forces, but Mao argued that the Red Army should stick to tried and tested tactics and avoid large defensive battles, which meant the sacrifice of entire villages. Such policies were, of course, extremely unpopular with the peasants, and the Party leaders took the opportunity to attempt to reduce Mao’s influence and remove him from his military and political posts.

In October 1932, a Conference of eight top CCP members was held at Ningdu to discuss military affairs. Mao was heavily criticised for his guerilla mentality and it was agreed he take sick leave. This meant retirement from military matters which would last until after the beginning of the Long March.[56] Mao received a second slap when he was not re-elected to the CC but appointed Chairperson of the Central Executive Committee of the Soviet government.[57] In this post he would remove collectivisation from the land programme, and liberalise the land laws to permit the buying and selling of land.

On hearing of Mao’s removal, the Political Secretariat of the ECCI sent a telegram “With respect to Mao Zedong it is necessary to employ maximum patience and comradely influence, providing him full opportunity to engage in responsible work.” The ECCI representative in China (Arthur Ewert) added “We ask you work closely with Mao Zedong.”[58] The reasons why they sent these messages were obvious: a new and bigger extermination campaign was on the way and the new leadership lacked Mao’s experience on the battlefield, also there had been a hostile reaction by Red Army personnel and local CCP members to the incomers’ moves against Mao.

During the fourth extermination campaign which lasted through the winter of 1932-1933, Po Ku, Lo Fu, and the remaining CC members moved from the Shanghai headquarters to Juichin, while Wang Ming left for Moscow, where he served from 1932 to 1938 as Chinese representative. He was replaced as Secretary General by Po Ku, who, with Zhou Enlai’s support and under Wang Ming’s direction, remained in control of the party until the Long March.[59]

Intelligence information and greater resourcefulness enabled the Red Army defending Jiangxi to ambush and destroy two KMT divisions which forced an end to the fourth extermination campaign. Po Ku and the Party Centre moved quickly to claim the credit for this victory and consolidate its leadership within the Soviet by accusing a number of middle and second-rank CCP members who were known Mao supporters of “indecision” and “factional activities”, and replacing them with their own people.[60] The 28 Bolsheviks now took three (including Wang Ming) of the six seats on the Standing Committee of the Politburo, and with Zhou Enlai’s support had control of this key body.[61]

However, the heroic efforts and victories of the Red Army in defeating Chiang Kai-shek’s fourth extermination campaign were the beginning of the end. It was clear that it was only a question of time before the superior strength of the Kuomintang prevailed.

Within the Jiangxi Soviet, the pressure of the KMT economic blockade was leading to an ever more conciliatory attitude to the richer peasants and to the merchants who maintained trade with the nearby towns. As the KMT blockade of Jiangxi became ever tighter and food scarcer, Wang Ming would prohibit further re-division of the land because this practice had become “one of the most serious obstacles to an improvement in peasant agriculture.” By the end of 1933 a Soviet government official is reported to have said that of the three million inhabitants of the central Soviet district, two million were oppressed by rich peasants and landlords and the Soviets themselves had become instruments for oppressing the poor.[62]

“The land was divided, but the landlords and rich peasants also received land and better land at that. … Not a few of them are in control of Party and Government institutions and use them to carry out their own class interests. … In many places the land problem seems to be fully solved, but upon close scrutiny it appears that even landlords are found to have received land and the rich peasants still retain their superior land.”[63]

For Chiang, the military success of the Jiangxi Soviet in defeating the extermination campaigns made its elimination a priority. For the 5th campaign which began in September 1933, Chiang’s bombers devastated whole districts while his troops moved inexorably down the province, building impenetrable fortifications as they advanced. Chiang abandoned the previous strategy of sending columns deep into Red territory, where they were cut off and annihilated. No units were allowed to advance without strong support. Blockhouses were built to control and defend an area, after which the army moved forward to the next position. His army of more than 500,000 men, schooled by the German General von Seeckt, supported by some 300 American, British and Italian bombers and armed with the latest weapons from the munitions factories of Europe and the United States, closed in on the Jiangxi Soviet like a fine-mesh steel net. The philosophy of the attacking forces was that it was impossible to draw a line between a good citizen and a Red partisan. As many as one million people died during this final campaign, by bomb, gun or starvation.


7.6 The Tsunyi Conference and the Long March

In response to the gradual encroachment of the KMT block-houses, the Soviet adopted a more defensive strategy proposed by Zhou Enlai of so-called protracted war which meant defending the territory of the Soviet and protecting its inhabitants from the ravages of KMT troops. This strategy required the construction of static fortifications. The key fort was at Guangchang, blocking the approach to Juichin.

The alternative strategy was proposed by Otto Braun who arrived in Juichin in October 1933, fresh from military academy and appointed by the ECCI to be military advisor to the Red Army. Braun wrote under the alias Hua Fu and advanced the strategy of ‘short, swift thrusts’ that laid stress on the mobility of the Red Army which would choose a target and strike with all its energy in one blow, and then retreat, not giving the KMT forces time to prepare or respond. In the background but no longer a serious contender, was Zhu De’s strategy so successfully used by Mao to defeat the first three campaigns, now deemed inappropriate because it offered no defence of the civilian population.[64]

In January 1934, seeing the seriousness of the situation, the Comintern intervened directly and insisted Mao be a full member of the Politburo. However, not receiving an offer of a return to military command, Mao chose to remain a sick man. Po Ku was the faithful servant of the ECCI but his limitations were recognised by the Comintern, and Mao’s abilities and experience sufficiently valued that Stalin intervened to ensure Mao’s presence in the CCP’s leadership structure. The popular view that Mao was a dissident communist who defied Stalin and defeated Wang Ming, the proxy of the Comintern, and thereby saved the Chinese revolution should have been buried long ago.[65]

A major assault with extensive use of heavy artillery destroyed Guangchang which fell to the KMT on 28 April. As it became clear that Guangchang would fall, Zhou distanced himself from the defence strategy by moving to Juichin while Otto Braun went to the front, took command and directed military operations, thus associating himself with the defeat. The fall of Guangchang was not decisive militarily but was a major psychological blow and led directly to the decision by a three-man committee of Po Ku, Zhou Enlai, and Otto Braun, that Juichin was no longer defendable, and the Soviet should be evacuated. The CC was informed in late August 1934 and agreed to the “strategic transfer” or the famous and heroic Long March as it would be known.[66]

In August, 1934, the 6th Red Army of about 10,000 men, led by Hsiao Keh, broke through the KMT cordon and escaped westward as one of a series of diversions which successfully deceived Chiang’s troops. In November the main force moved out from Yutu some hundred kilometres (about 60 miles) west of Juichin, virtually unopposed. Nym Wales reported that it took the more than 86,000 marchers (the majority teenagers, some as young as 13) three days to evacuate, but that only thirty women were allowed to join the march, an observation confirmed by Agnes Smedley.[67,68] That so few women were officially included (though many tagged on) is a clear and damning observation on how significant the CCP leadership saw women comrades in the revolutionary struggle.

The intention was for a relatively short march to join with Hsiao Keh who was active in north west Hunan and that is why they took everything that they could carry – including an X-ray machine.

With the fall of Guangchang and the decision to evacuate, Moscow built Mao up as a heroic figure clearly indicating who it wanted leading the Red Army during the evacuation. Mao’s name appeared in Comintern publications being praised as “the leader of the Chinese soviet movement,” and the “pre-eminent young politician and military strategist of the Chinese Soviet Republic.” The Comintern even published a volume of his selected works, probably the first of its kind, then the journal Abroad carried an approving sketch of Mao and Zhu De (the linking of the two was an unmistakable nudge), and finally in September 1934 the ECCI advised the CC of the CCP “to follow the example of Zhu De and Mao Zedong and work directly in the guerrilla detachments.”[69]

On 10 November 1934, almost exactly three years after the proclamation of the Chinese “Soviet Republic”, Chiang Kai-shek’s troops triumphantly entered Juichin, the Soviet capital. Chiang had failed to exterminate the Communists as he had promised, but he had succeeded in winning Jiangxi back for the landlords. Stalinists worldwide needed victories to demonstrate the successes of the Comintern, and because events in China were virtually unverifiable, Moscow reported the desperate flight of the Red Army as a series of victories and successes.

To escape the encirclement, the Red Army, still under the command of Otto Braun, had to break through four lines of block-houses. The first three were easy but at the fourth, on the banks of the river Xiang (where it crossed the Hunan-Kiangsi border), the column was ambushed after one half had crossed, and by 1 December 1934 only about 45,000 marchers were left to flee towards the west. Such figures are estimates because few records were kept and fewer survive. What can be said is that over half of those who started the Long March were killed or deserted in the initial stages.

The top CCP military leaders met in a series of meetings beginning on 12 December 1934 to discuss how to proceed. Mao was invited due to his relevant experience and pressure from the Comintern. He sensibly proposed that the Red Army not bang its head against entrenched KMT forces to the north but march west to Guizhou (Kweichow) province. His proposal was supported first by one of the 28 Bolsheviks, Wang Jiaxiang, and then by a second, Zhang Wentian, and then by Zhou Enlai.[70] Mao had won the day.

The Red Army moved into Guizhou, attacked but failed to capture Kweiyang (Guiyang) and moved towards Tsunyi, capturing that town on 14 January 1935.[71] The available Politburo members met with the chief military officers and Otto Braun from 15-17 January in the Tsunyi Conference to determine military strategy for the remainder of the Long March (at that time destination unknown). The extent of the military disaster, defeat of the Jiangxi Soviet and the terrible losses sustained in the initial stage of the Long March, badly damaged the standing of Zhou Enlai and Otto Braun and created an authority crisis in the CCP.

At Tsunyi, Mao blamed Braun for the disasters to the Red Army and in his contribution amalgamated the short, sharp thrust and protracted war strategies putting the blame for the defeat at Guangchang on Braun, letting Zhou Enlai off the hook. Zhou, as ever, shifted his support to the likely winner. The direct results were that Braun’s proposals were rejected, Mao’s accepted, the three-man group of Zhou Enlai, Otto Braun, and Po Ku abolished, and the total loss of military influence by Braun. How did Mao have the courage to place the blame on the ECCI representative? Two reasons spring to mind: Mao stressed that he was making military, not political, criticisms so there was no challenge to the authority of the ECCI. And he had been consistently praised by the ECCI and CI, and this gave him the necessary confidence.

The Tsunyi Conference resulted in Mao being promoted to membership of the Standing Committee of the Politburo. Mao would not take the Party throne for some time but emerged from the Tsunyi Conference with the reputation as a man who could lead the revolution to victory.[72] By mid-March, Mao had been appointed political commissar to the Front Commanding Headquarters (with Zhu De Commander in Chief), and as the lead figure on a three-person standing committee (with Zhou Enlai and Wang Jiaxiang) in which capacity he handled all crucial military matters.[73]

Mao was now primus inter pares in the leadership of the Party, but he was not undisputed leader. He did not control the whole Party and the army, because individuals such as Zhang Guotao (Chang Kuo-t’ao) who had established the E-Yu-Wan Soviet and was commander of the Fourth Front Army, and followers of Wang Ming such as Xiang Ying (commander of the rear guard remaining behind in Jiangxi, Anhwei, and Chekiang), were not ready to accept Mao’s leadership. It would not be until the 7th Congress of the CCP in 1945 that Mao would gain complete supremacy over the Party.[74]

The defeat in Jiangxi did not terminate the peasant war, but it dealt a stunning blow to the insurgent peasant movement and consequently to the labour movement in the cities, then at its lowest ebb. New waves of terror, of capitulation and betrayals destroyed most of the small groups of Communists remaining in the principal cities. Events laid the ghosts of a thousand Comintern propaganda myths. In the months after the Tsunyi Conference, the Red Army continued to roam Guizhou, northeastern Yunnan, and southern Szechuan provinces. Red forces marched and counter-marched across Hunan, Kweichow, Yunnan, and Szechwan into Shensi, suffering incredible hardships, and performing incredible feats of valour and cunning. The “Long March” has been recorded as a most remarkable military exploit, but it carried the Red Army ever farther from the political and economic centres of the country. The Communists marched into the sparse desert land of the Chinese northwest toward a new impasse.

Chiang Kai-shek had his own agenda for the march. Chiang’s intentions were to force the Red Army to march into provinces which he did not control, and offer his assistance to the local warlord and soon the guest would become the master. He also intended the Red Army should move away from the Chinese heartland while gradually depleting the Red Army until it had served its purpose after which he would deliver the coup de grace. Chiang could be pleased with himself. By the end of the Long March, he had increased his area of control by a million square kilometres with a population of 100 million; the Soviet areas had been largely eliminated save for an isolated and poverty-stricken area controlled by the CCP so far north that Chiang could claim the Reds had been chased out of China proper.[75] But he had failed to deliver the hoped for coup de grace.

7.7 The Red Army Arrives in Yenan

The First Front Army left Tsunyi in mid-January, and headed south for a short while before Mao and Zhou Enlai disrupted Chiang’s plan somewhat by marching north into Shensi rather than west into Szechuan.[76] Shensi was close to the border with the province of Gansu, outside the area controlled by Chiang Kai-shek, and contained the only remaining secure Soviet in China. Marching in the general direction of the Japanese army allowed Mao to rename the march as The Anti-Japanese March and claim that this had been his aim all along.

The Long March ended when Mao led between 4,000 and 7,000 troops into Paoan in the province of Shensi in October 1935. Mao had reached the Shensi Soviet led by Lui Chih-tan, with about the same number of troops as he had in his very first days at Jiangxi. Paoan would be the Communists’ capital until December 1936 when they seized Yenan.

So backward was this region that there were no major roads, railways or navigable rivers to carry relief supplies during the Great Northwest famine of 1928-33 when about one-third of the population starved to death.[77] During the famine peasants had borrowed to stay alive and by 1934-36, in a typical village in the eastern part of the county of some 85 households, three small landlords, 11 rich peasants, 39 middle peasants, 28 poor peasants, three farmhands and one tenant farmer, all had their land and property sequestered by creditors, and the land had passed into the hands of a finance company. This was fertile ground for the CCP.[78]

Jiangxi had been poor enough but this area of Shensi was absolutely impoverished with poor soil and low levels of productivity. The area of the Soviet fluctuated but did at various times extend into the three adjoining provinces of Shensi, Kansu and Ningsia. It was inhabited by scattered tribes that numbered less than one million; most villages consisted of no more than four or five farms. Only Yenan, a town with a population of less than four thousand people, could be reached by lorries and these travelled along a dirt track.[79]

Outside of the towns most people (and this includes Red Army troops) lived in caves or, even, just holes dug in the ground into which the water from melting snow ran. Food was barely adequate, the soldiers’ clothes were threadbare and their straw sandals falling to pieces. With winter coming on, Chiang corralled the Communists in these appalling conditions making sure they could proceed no further north, thus cutting them off from any possible supplies from Soviet Russia.

Mao sent Chun Yun as courier to Moscow to report on his success in reaching Shensi and on 13 December 1935, Pravda carried an edited version of the report as a major article headed; Leader of the Chinese People, Mao Zedong.[80] By June 1936, the radio link with Moscow had been restored but now Mao controlled the Chinese end with a consequent increase in his authority and prestige within the Party. The first telegram sent to Moscow from the Party Centre was dated 16 June 1936, and the first one from Moscow was received by the Party Centre on 2 July. The restoration of CCP-Moscow communication immediately strengthened Mao’s position. In the telegrams which the Centre sent to the Fourth Front Army under Zhang’s control, Mao often used phrases such as “according to the Comintern telegram” which forced Zhang to accept his authority. There are many cases of Mao going to great lengths to maintain radio contact with Moscow – for example, organising complex and dangerous missions to get kerosene to run the generators. It is inconceivable that if Mao was opposed to Moscow’s policy he would have made such persistent efforts.[81]

When the Communists settled in Shensi they again faced the problems of securing political support and maximising economic output. Two-thirds of peasants formally owned their land but nearly all were drained by usury. The CCP gained mass support with its radical policies of lowering rents, taxes and interest rates and negating debts to the landlords and usurers.[82]

There was little capital for agricultural development. Mao recognised this and stressed that in such a poverty-stricken region, increases of revenue could only come from increased production; and that the support of the population would depend on their gains in income being greater than the increase in taxes to support the Red Army and local administration. The solution was to require all Party members and troops to work in the villages to help produce the food and goods they consumed, and co-operate with villagers to mobilise labour for land reclamation, mutual aid in farming, and marketing co-operatives. Returns from these activities over and above the food taken by the Communists went back to the villages, to the surprise and delight of the peasants who, previously, had only been robbed by any troops stationed with them.[83]

Once again, under pressure from Mao, the CCP took the very positive step of introducing the same Marriage Law as in Jiangxi and, once again, backed off when faced with the hostility of the local male population: introducing restrictions on a woman’s ability to get a divorce which, of course, reduced her social position and the value of the formal right to own land.[84]

7.8 Summary

Soviets were founded in China as the result of a series of defeats of the working class and peasantry, resulting from a class collaborationist policy that gave the interests of the bourgeoisie priority in order to maintain a “United Front” with them. Nevertheless, the Soviets introduced a number of vital reforms: abolition of debt to usurers and large landowners; reductions in interest rates, rents, taxes and mortgages. Land re-distribution also improved the lives of most middle and poor peasants, and some landless labourers. These changes ensured peasant support for, and loyalty to, the CCP.

The CCP also introduced progressive legislation regarding women including; marriage reform, abolition of foot binding, and the right to own land and property. Reforms which were essential for improving the lives of women.

These reforms and all other progressive measures taken by the CCP were wholeheartedly supported by Chinese Trotskyists. But who also pointed out that the “Soviets” were not islands of socialism, they were part of a class-collaborationist strategy with the goal of a so-called democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry which would be, in fact, a national bourgeois-democratic, capitalist state. Trotskyists also pointed out that these so-called Soviets lacked an essential pre-requisite, being completely undemocratic. In the Leninist sense they were not Soviets at all.

Despite strong peasant support the armed strength of the KMT armies overwhelmed the early Soviets and forced the Red Army onto the Long March. The defeats suffered allowed Mao Zedong to successfully challenge the existing leaders and, with Stalin’s support, to re-enter the Politburo as its most authoritative figure.

By the time of Mao’s arrival in Shensi province, Third Period Stalinism was dead and had been replaced by the Popular Front strategy which, in China, was interpreted as political subordination of the CCP to the KMT in a way that mirrored the tragedy of 1925-27. Mao welcomed this strategy of right opportunism as his own. Lenin, it should be remembered, had considered such coalitions a betrayal and fought against them the whole of his political life. To him it was the epitome of revisionism and upon his return to Russia in April 1917, he had threatened to split with those Bolsheviks (who, incidentally, included Stalin) who favoured merging with the Mensheviks and supporting the coalition government established after the February Revolution.


[1] Morley, D, The CCP 1927-37, 2014, www.marxist.com.

[2] Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of our Party … 11th Central Committee of the CCP, www.marxist.org.

[3] Braun, O. A Communist Agent in China 1932-1939, Hurst & Co., 1982, p15.

[4] International Press Correspondence 1 June 1932.

[5] Averill, S. Transition from Urban to Rural in the Chinese Revolution, The China Journal, No. 48, 2002, p87-121.

[6] Averill, Transition … Op. cit.

[7] Thornton, R. Comintern and the Chinese Communists 1928-31, Univ. of Washington Press, 1969, p130/131.

[8] Mao Zedong, Report of the Chingkanshan Front Committee to the Central Committee, Nov 1928, w.m.org.

[9] Guillermaz, J. A History of the Chinese Communist Party 1921-1949, Methuen, 1972, p208.

[10] Shao-Chuan Leng, Pre-1949 Development of the Communist Chinese System of Justice, The China Quarterly, No. 30, 1967, p93-114.

[11] Shao-Chuan Leng, Op. cit.

[12] Shao-Chuan Leng, Op. cit.

[13] Cheng, L. Women and Class Analysis in the Chinese Land Revolution, Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law and Justice, 2013, 4(1)62-93.

[14] Hinton, W. Fanshen, Pelican, 1972, p573.

[15] Saich, T. The Rise to Power of the CCP, Sharp, 1994, p355.

[16] Hinton, W. Fanshen, Pelican, 1972.

[17] Cheng, L. Op. cit.

[18] Averill, S. Party, Society, and Local Elite in the Jiangxi Communist Movement, Jnl. Asian Studies, 1987, 46(2)279-303.

[19] Averill, S. Party,… Op. cit.

[20] Saich, T. The Rise … Op. cit. p556.

[21] Tomlinson, B.R. The Chinese Revolution and the Peasantry, School of Oriental & African Studies, Univ. of London.

[22] Chi-hsi Hu, The Sexual Revolution in the Kiangsi Soviet, The China Quarterly, No. 59, 1974, p477-490.

[23] Chi-hsi Hu, Op cit.

[24] Hinton, Op. cit. p184-188 and 208.

[25] Deutscher, I. Ironies of History, OUP, 1966, p89.

[26] Johnson, K. Women, the Family and Peasant Revolution in China, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1983.

[27] Duncan, J and Li, P. Women and Land Tenure in China, 2001, Rural Development Institute.

[28] Kyung Ae Park, Women and Revolution in China, Korea and World Affairs, 1990 14(4)747-774.

[29] Johnson, K.A. Women, the Family and Peasant Revolution in China, Univ of Chicago Press, 1983.

[30] Cheng, OP. cit.

[31] Letter from ECCI to CCP, 29 Oct 1929, in Saich T. The Rise … Op. cit.

[32] Schwartz, B. Chinese Communism and the Rise of Mao, Harper Torchbooks 1967 p174 et seq.

[33] Braun, Op. cit. p57.

[34] Short, P. Mao A Life, John Murray, 2004, p265-267.

[35] Anon. The Peasant War in China, Rev. Hist., 1990, 2(4)22-25.

[36] Schwartz, Op. cit.

[37] Thornton, R. The Emergence of a New Comintern Strategy for China: 1928. In International Communism and the Communist International 1919-43, MUP, p104-110.

[38] Short, Op. cit. p268-271.

[39] Saich, The Rise … Op. cit. p509-524.

[40] Schwartz, Op. cit.

[41] Dorrill, W. Origins of the Maoist Myth, China Quarterly, Vol 36 1968, p45-60.

[42] Short, Op. cit.

[43] Selden, Op. cit. p79.

[44] Braun, Op. cit. p20.

[45] Barnouin, B., and Yu, C. Zhou Enlai, Chinese UP, 2006, p44-49.

[46] Saich, The Rise … Op. cit. p509-524.

[47] Brandt, C. A Documentary History of Chinese Communism, Allen & Unwin, 1952, p217.

[48] Shao-Chuan Leng, Op. cit.

[49] Isaacs, H. Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution, Secker & Warberg, 1938, p 421, www.marxists.org.

[50] Anon. The Peasant War in China Rev History, 1990, p24.

[51] Isaacs, Op. cit. p391.

[52] Saich, The Rise … Op. cit. p558.

[53] Dorrill, Op. cit.

[54] North, R. Moscow and the Chinese Communists, p160-167.

[55] Benton, G. Zheng Chaolin New Left Review 14-04-03.

[56] Kampen, T. Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and the Evolution of the Chinese Communist Leadership, Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, 2000, p60.

[57] North, Op. cit. p158.

[58] Pantsov, A. & Levine, S. Mao, Simon & Schuster, 2012, p265-6.

[59] Harrison, J. The Li Li-san Line and the CCP in 1930 (Part 2), The China Quarterly, No. 15, 1963, p140-159.

[60] Saich, The Rise … Op. cit. p509-524.

[61] Kampen, Mao Zedong,… Op. cit.

[62] Degras, J. The Communist International, 1919-1943: Documents, Vol 3:168.

[63] Isaacs, OP. cit. p418-419.

[64] Chi-Hsi Hu, Hua Fu, the Fifth Encirclement Campaign and the Tsunyi Conference, The China Quarterly, No. 43, 1970, p 31-46.

[65] Sheng, M. Mao, Stalin, and the Formation of the Anti-Japanese United Front: 1935-37, China Quarterly No. 129, 1992, p149-170.

[66] Saich, The Rise … Op. cit. p509-524.

[67] Wales, N. Red Dust, Stanford U.P., 1962, p3.

[68] Smedley, A. The Great Road, Monthly Review Press, 1956, p309.

[69] Sheng, Op. cit.

[70] Kampen, Mao Zedong … Op. cit.

[71] Garavante, A. The Long March, The China Quarterly, No 22, 1965, p89-124.

[72] Yang, B. The Zunyi Conference as One Step in Mao’s Rise to Power, The China Quarterly, No. 106, 1986, p235-271.

[73] Kampen, T. The Zunyi Conference and Further Steps in Mao’s Rise to Power The China Quarterly, No. 117, 1989, p118-134.

[74] Peng Shuzi: Some Comments on Mao Tse-tung 1968; Peng Shuzi Internet Archive.

[75] Garavante, Op. cit.

[76] Garavante, Op. cit.

[77] Selden, M, The Yenan Way, Harvard U.P. 1971, p6.

[78] Goodman, D. Revolutionary Women and Women in the Revolution, The China Quarterly, No. 164, 2000, p915-942.

[79] Guillermaz, Op. cit. pp267 et seq.

[80] Sheng, Op. cit.

[81] Sheng, Op. cit.

[82] Gillin, D. “Peasant Nationalism” in the History of Chinese Communism, Jnl. Asian Studies, Feb 1964, Vol 23, pp269-289.

[83] Tomlinson, Op. cit.

[84] Duncan, J and Ping, L. Women and Land Tenure in China, 2001, Rural Development Institute.